What do you make when you’re invited to a bloggers’ picnic, to be attended by foodies and gourmands from all over the Bay Area? To make things more complicated, I would actually be at work all that day before going to the event, meaning I needed to make something that would have to be finished the night before and could last several hours before serving. For dessert (what? did you think I would actually bring anything else?) that cut out many options and choices. In the face of so many sophisticated palates, I couldn’t stomach making any overly fragile or complicated creation that might melt, crumble, curdle, or collapse before I made it there.
What did I end up making? A recipe adapted from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet, which consists of a melted-butter shortbread crust surrounding a soft, creamy chocolate center. Because the tart crust is whipped up in a bowl and pressed into the tin, there’s no need for chilling and rolling out a dough, yet the crust is as buttery-rich and crumbly as any I’ve tried. While Medrich calls for making a single tart or smaller 4″ tarts, I took a miniature muffin tin and pressed in the dough as thinly as possible – from the amount of dough meant for a 9″ tart I was able to get over 24 little tartlets. The tartlet shells baked up delicately thin and crumbled under a gentle bite, yielding to a rich mouthful of chocolate mousse.
The simplicity and reliability of this recipe makes it ideal for experimentation. Because the main impact of the tart comes from the chocolate, Medrich encourages trying different chocolates to find your favorite. I used Callebaut’s Refined 835NV, which has a 55% cocoa solid content and a pleasantly rounded bittersweet flavor. The tartlets also act as the perfect base for various toppings familiar or exotic. I found a sprinkling of cocoa nibs added crunch and subtle contrast, while chopped hazelnuts and anise seed or dried cherries and chili powder made for interesting combinations (see first photo).
The picnic, at Tomatilla’s beautiful house in Lafayette, was a wonderful spread of food and drink, and not least of all, the chance to see some of my favorite bloggers in person. I have to thank Brett, who, upon learning that I had just come from work, kindly sympathized that I must be exhausted. I have to admit that after a few hours of sun, wine, and conversation, I promptly fell asleep when I got home. Until next year, then…
Bittersweet Chocolate Tartlets
adapted from Alice Medrich’s BIttersweet
makes (8) 4-in tartlets or about (24) 2-in mini tartlets
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cream
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (between 50% to 60%), chopped
1 large egg
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour. Mix until just blended. The dough will be very soft and moist.
Gently press the dough into tartlet pans. Medrich calls for (8) 4-in wide by 3/4-in deep fluted tarlet pans. I used a mini muffin tin with (24) 2-in wide by 3/4-in deep cups. Press in the dough as thinly as possible.
Place pans in the oven and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until the crusts are golden brown (they should be fully baked).
While the tartlet shells are baking, heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan to boiling. Pour over the chopped chocolate and whisk together until combined.
Whisk the egg into the chocolate mixture right before the shells are finished baking.
Remove shells from the oven and turn off the oven. Pour the filling into the shells. Return the tartlets to the oven and leave them there for about 5 to 10 minutes, or when the filling is just beginning to set about the edges.
Place tartlets on a wire rack to cool. If you used individual tartlet pans with removable bottoms the tartlets should be fairly easy to unmold. If you used a muffin tin like me you may have a more difficult time unmolding them, especially if the shells are very thin. If the filling has completely set, you can try placing a sheet pan across the top of tin and flipping it over to unmold them.
Just before serving, sprinkle toppings of your choice on the tartlets, such as: cocoa nibs, chopped nuts, dried cherries, anise seed, chili powder.